Christmas Music is a significant part of the season.
- carols (word means to dance… reminds us to celebrate & commemorate in all the calendar chaos).
- Songs of the season: Jingle Bells, Bing Crosby’s “Silver Bells” & “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” Ella Fitzgerald’s “Let it Snow,” Brenda Lee’s “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree,” Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty The Snowman, and who hasn’t learned some Spanish through “Feliz Navidad”?
- Songs surround the nativity story in Scripture
- We listen to music in stores and cars, we sing in our churches, play songs in our homes.
- Sung by young and old.
- Sung by those who believe and not.
The only question is when is too early to listen to xmas music?
One of the favorite carols is “Joy To The World” (JTTW). The song lyrics were written by Isaac Watts, one of the most respected hymn writers in history. Watts wrote over 600 hymns, including: “Alas And Did My Savior Bleed,” “At The Cross,” “O God Our Help In Ages Past,” “We’re Marching To Zion,” and “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.”
The JTTW carol was inspired by Psalm 98 (cf. 98:4).
JTTW was first published in 1719 (2019 is 300th anniversary) with a different melody that we know today. Over a hundred years later, in 1836, a composer named Lowell Mason created a new melody and combined it with these lyrics, which we sing the tune today.
JTTW lyrics are missing shepherds, angels, Joseph & Mary, Magi, and any hint of a baby. The reason is because Isaac Watts was writing about the coming of Jesus, just not His first. Watts wrote about the hope of Christ’s second coming. Yet, the lines of rejoicing at the Lord’s coming and preparing him room has made it one of the best-known carols of all time.
EXAMINE Psalm 98:1-9
We do not know the author of the psalm but presume David. Psalm 98 starts with an inscription – “A psalm,” simply indicating lyric set to melody, like many other psalms; from the beginning an invitation to sing to the Lord.
The first verse commands celebration to God with new (fresh) songs.
- There are few things more draining and despairing then a relationship that is not kept fresh.
- Music and singing is like the fuel to keep your faith relationship vibrant.
- Walking with Jesus will have highs and lows, but should be filled with fresh communication.
Illus. Isaac Watts
When he was 16 years old, he complained about the music at church, saying, “To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.”
Watts’ father challenged him if he could do better then write his own music, and thus he did – 600+ hymns and other writings.
- In fact, Isaac rhymed so much that his father tired and told him to stop or he’d be punished. Isaac replied: “O father, do some mercy take, and I will no more verses make!” As a father, I cannot imagine that went over well, though I may had laughed later!
- You are responsible for delight and direction in own life. If it’s not working, look in the mirror and change.
- Also, it is easy to identify problems in relationships/organizations, but difficult to solve problems. If you cannot be part of the solution then limit critique, as Watts’ father suggested, and Isaac followed.
The following verses provide 5 reasons to sing to God.
#1 We sing bc the Lord outperforms everyone (Psalm 98:1a).
We can imagine the OT believers would recall God’s work to rescue them from slavery with 10 plagues upon the Egyptians and crossing the Red Sea on dry land. We can also imagine the miracles of God’s power to protect a small nation from larger empires. There is no one who compares or competes with the great God in heaven, of whom earth is His footstool (Ps 110:1-2).
Today, the marvelous things (wonderful, extraordinary, surpassing difficulty) God does can be ordinary (breathing, seeing, hearing, walking, eating… shelter & support…), or can be extraordinary in God’s protection in danger, God’s healing in physical duress, (God’s granting patience with crazy drivers – PC with me!), God’s comfort and strength during emotional drains this year, or the dozens of other ways God has shown Himself to you this year. All of these things are things that we could not do without God’s help.
> Abide (John 15:1-5). Regardless your life season or opportunities, your #1 is to abide in Christ.
> Spend time in thanksgiving, perhaps making a list of 10-100 blessings. Thankfulness results in transformation.
#2 We sing bc the Lord overcomes everything (Psalm 98:1b).
The Psalmist notes the hand and arm of God working and completing salvation. God accomplishes everything on His own, without requiring assistance. He can fight battles with or without warriors. God’s army is His
adornment – like the decorations on a tree that are unnecessary for the tree’s existence or growth, but reflect its beauty nonetheless.
Several times the Scriptures personify God using a right hand to display His valiant work or to deliver victory of enemies (cf. Exodus 15:6, 12; Deut 33:2; Ps 78:54; 118:15-16). That doesn’t mean God frowns on left-handers. In fact, the Bible presents left-handers as advantaged combatants (cf. Judg 3:15-21; 20:16). And we all know God loves those who are not right (sorry, bad pun in many ways).
In all, the Lord overcomes sin with His salvation; He overcomes weakness with His strength (1Cor 1:27-31; 2 Cor 12:9); He overcomes human inability with divine capability.
> Focus our problems with prayer. Too often we try to carry our own burdens – but the difference with other religions who carry their idols is that in Christianity God carries us. Place your burdens on God’s back and let Him bring you through.
#3 We sing bc the Lord operates in the darkness (Psalm 98:2-3).
The Psalmist notes the Lord makes known His salvation. God does not hide but reveals His righteousness. And God works in the sight of the nations (code for those unbelieving, or those not living in the light of God’s word or way). Even when Israel has drifted away or is likewise turned toward the darkness, God still remembers His steadfast love. This is covenant language with a rich word (chesed) that recalls the promise and faithfulness of God across generations.
Yet, have you ever wondered how God remembers if He knows all things and never forgets? It is likely Israel felt God forgot them.
- 40 years in Dessert
- 70 years in Exile…
- 400 years from Malachi until an angel appears in a small village.
So, when we forget something its either because we do not care enough or we lack the capacity to keep all in mind. But God doesn’t forget because His knowledge is perfect and complete (cf Isa 40:13-14; Ps 147:5; Job 37:16). God’s remembrance is not about past forgetfulness but present faithfulness. He always keeps His promises.
- Like a child remembers every item on their Christmas wish list.
- Like a girlfriend who remembers the phone number of a boy.
- Like a mother who remembers each child’s birth experience.
- Isa 49:14-16 – “Like a mother with a child… even if these forget, I will not forget you. Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands”
- Like a father remembers… (should we stop here?)… walking his daughter down the aisle for her wedding.
- God works in our life in the darkest and deepest moments. God is never consumed or overwhelmed by the moment. He is in control and He has great compassion for you. God hears your groaning, sees your suffering, and loves you beyond imagination.
- God’s faithful remembrance means we can know strength in the storm, wisdom in our weakness, peace in our predicaments, rest in our stress, courage in the face of fear and anxiety, and experience hope in despair.
The Christmas narrative reminds us the Lord made known his salvation, and He does so in our darkest and deepest moments.
- When a child is conceived out of wedlock (Jesus).
- When a newly pregnant mother needs support from understanding and compassionate family & friends (Mary).
- When a husband experiences the social stigma from his wife being suspiciously unfaithful (Joseph).
- When infertility haunts a husband and wife into their old age (Zechariah & Elizabeth).
- When a family needs to flee their hometown from murderous threats of the government. They have to leave all they know at the most inopportune time, and take their children to live among strangers in a foreign land (Joseph & Mary with Christ Child).
- When violence and a massacre against children take place, and all you can hear in the town is weeping moms and dads (Bethlehem – Ramah).
- What we see in the Bible is that suffering haunts every scene of the Nativity. Pain and loss mark the experiences of each person in the narrative. So, Christmas is only merry because we know “God is with us” (Emmanuel) and that “God will save His people” (Yeshua – Jesus)… and that God will be mighty over death through the resurrection of Jesus. Joy and hope are found in God’s steadfast love.
> Stop operating in the shadows… enter the light with your cry for help, with your confession of sin, with your confession of need for faith in Jesus Christ.
#4 We sing bc the Lord occupies joy (Psalm 98:4-8).
All ends of earth long for the redemption of God and to give praise to the Lord. The Psalmist invites praise to the Lord with musical instruments & melody. The Psalmist notes the entire creation giving joyful praise to the Lord.
Other places in Scripture remark of universal praise to God.
- The temple worship was legendary (2Chro 29:25-30 several days of worship and loud melodies; Ezra 3:10-13 – the older men cried so loud in worship bc their fond memories in previous temple; Neh 8 listened to hours of preaching and sang in response for multiple days).
- Creation worships
- Animals testify to God’s faithfulness (Job 12:7-10; 40-42; Isa 43:20)
- Skies proclaim handiwork of God (Ps 19:1)
- Clouds, thunder, and lightning display the power of God (Job 37:14-16)
- Forests sing for joy (Ps 96:12)
- Mountain peaks praise the Lord (Ps 95:4)
- Prophets spoke of a time when the “mountains and hills will burst into song, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” Isa 55:12)
- Jesus spoke of rocks replacing the silence of humanity with stones crying out God’s praise (Lk 19:40)
- Isaac Watts wrote “Heaven and nature sing… Let the earth receive her king”
- The entire Christmas narrative is filled with spontaneous songs.
- Mary in response to Elizabeth’s blessing.
- Zechariah in response to breaking a curse of silence.
- Angels in delivering the good news of Christ’s birth to shepherds.
- Simeon bursting in song at the sight of the Christ-child.
- All the experiences and encounters with Jesus prompt extraordinary outbursts and patterns of speech. The gospel is rooted in song lyrics.
If we want to avoid idolatry, prevail against depression, and be victorious over the spiritual enemies at work in the world and warring against our soul, then we must learn to worship God with all creation. It is the worship of God that fills our heart with exceeding joy. While the world says religion/faith are negative influences on society, the research suggests differently – religious families are statistically happier, healthier, and offer greater welfare of day-to-day life for the world than those that do not.
Ps 16:4 “The sorrows of those who take another god for themselves will multiply.”
Ps 28:7 “The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults and with my song I shall thank him.”
Ps 84:1-2 “How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.”
–> Make a commitment to attend and be active with Sunday Groups & Gatherings.
- Groups… consider gathering for joyful fellowship at least 1x quarter.
#5 We sing bc the Lord is coming soon (Psalm 98:9).
As we noted before, this Psalm is not necessarily a Christmas Psalm, like “Joy To The World” isn’t necessarily a Christmas carol. However, both the Psalm and the Song from Isaac Watts looked forward to the coming of the Jesus. The Psalms and Carols often long for the Messiah to come not just as a baby bringing human salvation but as a judge executing justice far as the curse if found in the world.
The world of Isaac Watts and ourselves is ruled by sin and sorrow, where thorns infest the ground. We long for the coming of the Lord to reverse the curse and make His blessings flow. We celebrate a leader who will rule with truth, integrity, grace, and compassion, and whose reign is unimpeachable and unrelenting. And when King Jesus rules, all will be made right and we will be filled with awe and wonder of His love.
- The wandering will find peace. Unemployment, college applications, shipping & handling fees, google maps, anxiety, stress, addictions – all these will be discontinued.
- The weary will find hope. Sickness, sorrow, struggles, and sin will not have the last word. Suffering has an expiration date because the resurrection and return of Jesus.
- The worshipful will find joy and faith will become sight.
> Even if you do not believe in God, isn’t this the world you would want? Start there and investigate the Gospels – don’t compare Christianity to Christians but to Christ. Study Jesus and see what turns up in your heart.
> Missions exist because worship doesn’t. Isaac Watts was right, Christmas joy isn’t just for America but the whole world. The Christian’s aim is to increase voices of worship with a vision for the grace of God reaching every nation and people.
We can sing JTTW 3 different ways…
- with our mouths,
- with our money,
- with our ministry to others…